Juno and the Paycock

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A: Sean O'Casey Pf: 1924, Dublin Pb: 1925 G: Tragicom. in 3 acts S: Dublin tenement living room, 1922 C: 14m, 5fDespite the ‘peacock’, her drunken and idle husband ‘Captain’ Jack Boyle, his wife Juno struggles to keep the family going. Her son Johnny, who was wounded in the nationalist struggle against the English, cannot work and lives in terror during the mounting civil war between republican factions. Her pretty daughter Mary is on strike for ‘a principle’. When Juno tells Boyle of a job, he pleads leg cramps and settles down to a cup of tea with his fawning companion Joxer Daly. They are surprised by Juno's return. She has met an English schoolteacher Charles Bentham, who tells them that the family may expect to inherit a fortune from a distant relative. Boyle dismisses the wastrel Joxer and looks forward to a new life of wealth and sobriety. Two days later the Boyles give a party amidst the vulgar decorations bought from loans that Boyle has borrowed in anticipation of his inheritance. Joxer is back in favour, and Bentham makes overtures to Mary. Johnny's terror about the shooting of a neighbour whose funeral passes down the stairs, spoils the jollity briefly, but they soon resume their drinking and songs. Eventually all but Johnny leave for the funeral. A young man summons Johnny to a meeting later that evening. Two months later Mary has been abandoned by Bentham, and she discovers that she is pregnant. Boyle is outraged and wants his daughter thrown out of the house. Creditors demand repayment of their loans, and it becomes clear that Boyle may never get his promised inheritance. Two ‘Irregulars’ (IRA members who have not disbanded) come to take away Johnny to make him pay for his neighbour's death. Boyle goes off drinking with Joxer, and bailiffs arrive to take away all their possessions. News of Johnny's death comes, and Juno laments his passing. She leaves with Mary, promising that at least her baby will have two mothers. The drunken Boyle and Joxer stagger in, reeling around in search of the missing furniture, and Boyle comments that the whole world is in ‘a terrible state of chassis’ (chaos).

A: Sean O'Casey Pf: 1924, Dublin Pb: 1925 G: Tragicom. in 3 acts S: Dublin tenement living room, 1922 C: 14m, 5f

This is the most frequently performed of O'Casey's plays and offers rewarding opportunities for actors. The events of the play could hardly be more devastating and are worthy of melodrama. But O'Casey's theatrical genius lifts the play well above melodrama through its courageous and perfectly judged balance between tragedy and comedy. Probably based on O'Casey's own mother, Juno is a tragic but not self-pitying figure, whose speech, using the simplest language, sometimes rises to lyrical heights. Boyle and Joxer are a comic duo, whose Falstaffian antics constantly relieve the tension. The masterstroke is to bring the two elements together at the end, so that the two drunks stagger around comically on a tragically empty stage, challenging each audience member to choose between laughter and tears.


Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

Reference entries

Sean O'Casey (1880—1964) playwright and writer

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